NAVAJO NATION — Plans to build a water pipeline that would serve the Navajo Nation are moving forward after approval from the U.S. Department of Interior and $3 million in funding, according to New Mexico lawmakers.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a measure Thursday in Washington, D.C., to allow the Navajo-Gallup pipeline project to go forward, and for $3 million to be set aside for the project.

"We are now officially on track toward getting this pipeline built, thus providing water to thousands of Navajos who are currently not served and bringing water certainty to Gallup," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a prepared statement.

The Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects Act, part of a Bingaman public lands bill signed by President Barack Obama in March, authorizes federal funding for a pipeline to serve Gallup and the Navajo reservation and various water conservation projects. It also settles Navajo water rights claims in the San Juan River Basin.

The legislation authorizes $870 million for the project, the bulk of which the federal government would fund through about two decades, according to Bingaman's office.

The project would serve 250,000 people by 2040 in the eastern portion of the Navajo Nation, the southwestern part of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Gallup, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

More than 40 percent of Navajo households haul water, according to the bureau.

"It is intolerable that, in 2009 in the United States of America, many Navajos in New Mexico still must travel miles and miles to bring back water for their families to drink, to bathe and to cook with every day," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in the prepared statement.

Udall helped Bingaman introduce the bill.

The legislation would recognize about 600,000 acre-feet per year of water for Navajo agricultural, industrial, municipal, domestic and stock watering purposes. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.

Bingaman spokeswoman Jude McCartin said significant progress was made since Obama signed the bill into law.

"We have $3 million and the secretary's personal attention to the project," she said.

GloJean Todacheene, a San Juan County commissioner and Shiprock council delegate, as a child stood in line to fill a pail with spring water from a wash in Two Grey Hills that she would haul to her grandmother's hogan.

People in many parts of the reservation continue to haul water, so she was glad to see the project move forward, she said.

"It's really a critical issue," Todacheene said. "This pipeline is really important for the little chapter communities because they're going to finally get water."